AIKEN - The battle over James Brown's estate will land in an Aiken County courtroom today.
A flurry of court filings in recent weeks has led to a 10 a.m. hearing in front of Judge Jack Early, who has been asked to make tough decisions that contradict the singer's will.
Today's hearing, one attorney predicted, certainly won't be the last legal volley over the music legend's legacy.
"This is just the beginning of a potentially long road," said Robert Rosen, the Charleston attorney representing the singer's fourth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie Brown.
She's just one of several people who have challenged the singer's last wishes.
She wants her share of his estate as Mr. Brown's "omitted spouse." She also wants the retrieval from his Beech Island home of her belongings and those of her 5-year-old son, James Brown II, who was born after the will was drafted.
The six children he named in his will want his three advisers removed as his personal representatives, alleging mismanagement of their father's estate.
There also might be some clarification over the two trusts - the James Brown I Feel Good Trust and the James Brown Family Education Trust - that Mr. Brown set up.
For the moment, Mr. Rosen said, the issue is about his will, not the trusts. That will come later, he hinted.
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," he said.
Mrs. Brown's position is that the trusts are not separate from the singer's estate - they're part of it, Mr. Rosen explained.
He speculated that the children might argue a different position - that the trusts don't exist at all.
They challenged the singer's will first on Feb. 1, asking for the removal of the trustees.
Among the allegations contained in their lengthy petition were that Buddy Dallas, Alford Bradley and David Cannon have mismanaged the music legend's estate and that assets - including the rights to his music - were in danger of being lost.
The singer's widow came next, but she hasn't asked that the three men be removed. She instead asked that a special administrator be appointed to work with them.
Mr. Dallas has said all along that by trying to remove him and the other two advisers, Mr. Brown's children are violating their father's wishes.
The singer chose them to represent him after his death, Mr. Dallas said.
"It's unpleasant and unfortunate that his children don't like the decisions he made about his estate," he said. "This is what he wanted done, and he left it in writing."
He and his two colleagues fired back in their own filings Wednesday, arguing that Mrs. Brown's marriage to the singer was not valid because she was still married to a Pakistani man when she and Mr. Brown married.
A Charleston judge's ruling that her first marriage was void from the start doesn't legalize her marriage to Mr. Brown, their petition argues, and they never remarried.
In a separate petition, they denied the allegations by the children that they've mismanaged the estate and that they took a document from the home.
They allege that some of Mr. Brown's children have removed valuables from his Beech Island home, hindering the appraisal of his estate, due by mid-April.
The legal challenges have been a "distraction," Probate attorney Strom Thurmond Jr. said, but appraisals are still being conducted.
"Will contests are unfortunately not unusual," Mr. Thurmond said. "There is no right to inheritance in South Carolina."
Mr. Dallas hinted that more courtroom fights would be sparked when asked about a provision in the singer's estate that vows to exclude anyone in the will who contests it. The clause states that anyone who contests his will or the trust "shall forfeit his or her entire interest."
"Mr. Brown made that decision," Mr. Dallas said.
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Attorneys involved in the case say there are various potential outcomes after today's hearing.
Judge Early could:
- Refuse to remove the trustees and leave things as they are
- Appoint a special administrator to work with the trustees
- Remove the trustees and name someone to take their place
- Come up with a ''hybrid resolution,'' as probate attorney Strom Thurmond Jr. said could happen
LOUIS LEVENSON - Atlanta attorney
He represents the six children listed in James Brown's will - Terry Brown, Larry Brown, Daryl Brown, Venisha Brown, Deanna J. Brown Thomas and Yamma Brown Lumar - and a number of grandchildren.
His clients want the three men James Brown named as executors of his will removed and a special administrator appointed to oversee the estate.
The children allege that Buddy Dallas, Alford Bradley and David Cannon have mismanaged the late singer's estate and are trying to sell his music rights.
ROBERT ROSEN - Charleston attorney
Represents Tomi Rae Hynie Brown, the music legend's fourth wife. Locked out of his Beech Island estate after he died on Christmas Day, Mrs. Brown and her 5-year-old son, James Brown II, were not mentioned in his will. It was drafted more than a year before the couple married and nearly 10 months before their son was born.
Buddy Dallas has questioned the legality of her marriage and the paternity of her son. Mrs. Brown was married to a Pakistani man when she married the singer, but Mr. Rosen said a Charleston judge ruled that first marriage "void from the start."
She has contested his will and is asking for part of his estate as his "omitted spouse" and has demanded access to the Beech Island home to retrieve her and her son's belongings.
She also wants a special administrator appointed to oversee the estate but has not asked that Mr. Brown's longtime advisers be removed as his personal representatives.
BUDDY DALLAS - Augusta attorney and longtime adviser to James Brown
Along with David Cannon and Alford Bradley - who also worked for the late singer for many years - Mr. Dallas was named as Mr. Brown's "personal repre-sentative," or executor of his will. The three men are also "trustees" of two trusts set up by Mr. Brown: The James Brown I Feel Good Trust and the James Brown Family Education Trust. Six of Mr. Brown's children want the three men removed and a special administrator appointed to oversee the estate. They've been accused of mismanaging the estate and endangering his music rights.
Mr. Dallas said the children just want control of the trust - which includes the music rights - and are violating their father's wishes.
STROM THURMOND JR. - Aiken attorney
Hired to probate Mr. Brown's will.